Single and Loving It: Tips for a Healthy Breakup
So you've just broken up with someone. The relationship is over, finished, kaput, and yet you still feel like you've hit a brick wall in terms of moving on.
While there's an endless amount of recommendations on social media and from friends to help you wallow in your misery, what you need right now is proven advice and practical strategies to ensure you're on the path toward a healthy breakup.
All by myself
When a partnership ends, your equilibrium needs to readjust. You have different priorities and day-to-day activities as a single person than you had as part of a couple. This shift occurs quickly on conscious and subconscious levels.
"Psychologically speaking, the aftermath of a breakup is a battle between two very powerful parts of your brain: the older 'reptile' part of the brain that wants you to be partnered up and safe, and the neocortex or 'human' part that is trying to rationalize things and be practical," said Leah Sheppard, founder of the breakup recovery and empowerment app Her.0. "The key to dealing with the aftermath is soothing the reptile and reinforcing the neocortex."
Sheppard noted the effect of neurological chemical signals, which stem from the evolutionary adaptation to seek love, companionship and safety in numbers as a means of survival. These signals, she said, go into overdrive during a split, initiating feelings such as grief, fear, anger, stress, anxiety and longing until the "threat" of being single is resolved. The reptilian segment of the brain isn't aware that such a threat isn't as imperative as it was for our ancestors.
These reactions vary in intensity.
"Not all breakups are equal, depending on the length of the relationship [and] what led to the breakup, and who wanted out of it matters," explained Kevin Darné, of Chicago, author of several books and a blog about relationships. "A couple who dated for six months is a lot different from a couple who lived together for five years, or one in which they have a child together."
The more ties they have to each other's inner circles and the more intertwined their lives are, the harder it is to move on emotionally, he added.
Since you've been gone
At times, going through a breakup requires extra help.
"For some people, there is so much grief and even shock that this has happened that the best first step would be professional support," said Leanne Kanzler, a psychologist, breakup coach and best-selling author in Australia. "If that is not possible, usually due to finances, then there are many online support groups that people can join for free."
She said most advice from support groups is opinionated rather than professional, so you may want to take it with a grain of salt.
For the most part, coping with a breakup involves psychological and emotional work you need to do yourself. Kanzler didn't frame the emotions as "negative," just uncomfortable. Giving ourselves time to understand and process them can help ease the pain. Trying to repress emotions with drugs, alcohol and sex only prolongs and deepens the problem, she noted. If you progress to depression, anxiety or feelings of hopelessness or helplessness, she recommended seeking professional help.
Giving ourselves time to understand and process them can help ease the pain.
To Sheppard's view, these uncomfortable emotions are the brain's way of trying to resolve issues.
"What I find works well is allowing those emotions to come up in a safe environment, not at the pub or to your boss during happy hour…being honest about why you feel that way and digging deep to find something positive about it," she recommended.
Each expert advised that focusing on other areas and shaking up your routine are healthy coping mechanisms. New areas of focus could include hobbies and interests (both new and old), lifestyle choices, jobs or even friends and family members who may have taken a back seat during the relationship. Combined with environmental and physical adjustments, such as makeovers and redecorating, these changes can help you create a new life separate from your ex. The best plan is to stay away from the cycles that remind you of your past relationship.
Cut all contact
Immediately following a breakup, Darné suggested enacting the "no-contact rule," which entails blocking phone numbers, email addresses and social media, and avoiding places your ex might frequent. This does not mean ghosting them completely, but rather letting them know the boundaries you're setting and giving yourself time to grieve and heal without distractions. It is important at this stage to let friends and family know the relationship has ended.
Even if you think you may want to be friends with your ex someday, give yourself time to recover independently.
"Never offer or accept friendship as a consolation prize," Darné said. "You are the last person who can help them get over you and vice versa."
Forcing friendship too soon can give people false hope for reconciliation or risk the two of you slipping and having sex, which he said can only add confusion to an already confused situation.
Additionally, Darné stressed the importance of socializing with other singles. He suggested joining singles networking groups or spending more time with single co-workers.
"Too often, people reach a point where they stop making new friends and all their [current] friends are married or in serious relationships," he added. "This makes them feel isolated and weary of being the third or fifth wheel at gatherings."
Another tricky aspect of breakups is seeing your ex again, whether alone or with someone else. On the plus side, Sheppard and Kanzler believe this could provide you with a dose of reality, as we often romanticize past relationships and partners in retrospect. However, it can still be a shock to the system and resurrect old issues. Kanzler said an exercise she frequently gives to patients is to list the reasons the relationship ended and then look at the positive aspects of being single.
An accidental meeting can be particularly distressing if your ex is in a relationship, because you may feel discarded. Experts recommend staying calm and objective, and acknowledging that the breakup happened for a reason. Be grateful for what you learned and gained rather than harboring resentment and hindering the recovery process. Kanzler stressed the importance of establishing good boundaries and ending unhealthy relationship patterns to reclaim autonomy and self-respect if they have been compromised.
"When we miss someone, we miss things that we've associated with only them: intimacy, laughter, going out on dates, sharing special events," Sheppard explained. "But we often blind ourselves to the fact that those things might have already been in our lives the whole time. Look for those things you miss in your relationship and see how you can provide them for yourself."
Single and loving it
Recovering from a breakup is a lot of hard and tedious work, and maintaining your progress requires constant and consistent effort. But never discount the impact being single and "dating yourself" can have on yourself and future relationships.
"With each failed relationship, heartache or betrayal, we are presented with an opportunity to either craft or refine our mate selection screening process and must-haves list for choosing our next mate," said Darné, who favors positive affirmations and quotes for recovery.
"A simple way to start turning around the way we feel is to start a gratitude journal. Every day, write down at least three to five things you are grateful for," Kanzler advised. "Research has shown that people who do this are generally happier. Relationships always teach us something. The bottom line is to really connect to what you want for yourself and stop putting other people's needs above yours."
"Taking action in how you remind yourself that you are a worthy, intelligent and beautiful being is the most empowering thing you can do and will provide you with strength and resilience to last you a lifetime," Sheppard said. "Just give yourself a bit of time to get back on your feet and you will be back to lovetown in no time."